We all want to be the best parent possible, but after stepping into the role of mom or dad, it quickly becomes apparent that this is a difficult title to attain, and maintain. Between work, school, household chores, pets, and the millions of other tasks that you have to tackle, how do you ensure that your kids know that they are loved, cherished, and heard? We break down some simple ways to be a better parent.
Things You Can Do to Be a Better Parent
Congratulations! You've already started to become a better parent because you're looking for ways to improve. Try some simple changes that can have a big impact on your child's life. Best of all, you can start making them today.
One of the most important parts of being a parent is being present for your child. Whether you're at the playground, at basketball practice, or in your own backyard, kids consistently glance back at their parents to see if they're watching them. Unless you're working or there is an emergency, consider getting off your phone and just paying a little more attention to them.
For busy parents who find themselves working all the time, simply carve out 30 minutes to an hour each day to spend with your kids. Get outside, play a family game, have dinner together, or read them some books before bed. During these moments, center your focus on your child.
Use Active Listening
There's a difference between simply listening to your child and actually making them feel heard. Parents can easily accomplish this by implementing active listening. This is the practice of being present throughout a conversation. You'll just need to follow five steps to carry out this concentrated communication method.
- Remove Distractions - Turn off the television, set down your phone, and find a quiet place to talk.
- Get on Their Level - Kneel or sit at a table so that you can be eye level with them.
- Take Turns Talking - Let each person completely finish their thought before engaging. This allows you to fully understand what they are saying and respond appropriately.
- Acknowledge Feelings and Respond With Open-Ended Questions - It's best if 'yes' and 'no' are not be a part of these conversations. Ask about how your child feels about the situation, what they enjoyed most about their experience, how they plan to move forward with their project, or what they need help with in order to make the situation easier. This continues the conversation and lets them know you're interested and invested in what they have to say.
- Maintain Eye Contact - Look directly at your child when they're speaking and pay attention to their non-verbal cues. Many times, we incorrectly interpret a situation because we simply don't see the whole picture. Non-verbal cues make up more than half of all communication, making these subtle signals extremely important.
By changing how you receive information, you can better understand your child's perspective, make them feel heard, and help to safeguard their mental health. Studies also show that when using active listening techniques, teens are more likely to open up and share their feelings and frustrations.
Show and Share Affection
You are loved. How often do you hear those words? Would they make a difference in your day? Studies show that hearing this simple statement can improve a person's health. How about a hug? Does this affectionate gesture give you a mental boost? Research shows that "four hugs per day [is] an antidote for depression, eight hugs per day [will] achieve mental stability and twelve hugs per day [will] achieve real psychological growth."
This is an easy change to make that can help you be a better parent - just sprinkle in a little more love. Hug your kids, give them kisses before school and bedtimes, and say 'I love you' more often. These expressions of affection take seconds to do, yet their impact is impressive.
Share When You Are Proud
Positive reinforcement is a powerful tool. It can help build your child's confidence and self-esteem, and motivate them to continue to push themselves in the future. However, it's important to remember that there can be too much of a good thing.
Parents need to praise both big and small accomplishments, but don't need to commend every little action. Instead, pick and choose moments when they have truly worked hard, gone out of their way to show kindness, or modeled new beneficial behaviors.
These are some easy proud of you quotes that you can use to express your feelings about your kids and their actions:
- I am so proud of your hard work!
- You deserve this.
- That was wonderful! You were so sweet to your brother/sister.
- I love that you care so much about the environment.
- Thank you for always being you.
- Wow! Your swing has gotten so much better! I can't wait to see how the game goes next week!
Don't Compare Your Kids
It's also important for parents not to play favorites or compare their kids. "Why can't you be more like your brother?" "Don't you want to be an A student like your sister?" "Your brother would help mommy without having to be asked." Remember your kids are different people! They'll never be the same and expecting this can result in resentment, sibling rivalry, and low self-esteem. This can also cause your kids to feel uncomfortable approaching you with their problems.
One of the best ways to be a better parent is to look at each child as a unique individual, just like you would a stranger on the street. How would you speak to someone you didn't know? Most people wouldn't compare them to others. So try to avoid doing it with your kids.
Establish Rules and Be Consistent
Kids need structure and discipline. However, they're not mind readers, and when they're young, they may not realize that they should do certain things that adults associate with common sense. If you want to be a better parent without yelling, then make sure your kids know the rules and the repercussions prior to the moments where they occur.
This can lessen the instance of altercations and shorten your kid's outbursts when they have to accept a consequence. Finally, try to be consistent. Having consistent rules can help kids learn and can cause less confusion in the long run.
Acknowledge Mistakes in a Positive Way
No one is perfect. We all make mistakes: that's how we learn. When your kids fail at something, help them to reframe their perspective on the situation. What did we do right? How can we do better next time? What can we learn from the situation?
So, for instance, if your child's team lost their basketball game, what was the good, the bad, and the ugly? Say your son has a great free throw shot (the good), but gets winded running back and forth across the court (the bad), and he tripped during the game (the ugly). First, acknowledge the best parts of the game.
Next, address the bad and ugly parts and come up with constructive solutions. "I used to run track, and it took me a year to get to a place where I could get through a full practice without struggling. You will get there too. How about we go to a public gymnasium as a family to run some drills together?" In terms of the tripping, let him know that it could happen to anyone and then inquire if he needs new shoes for his upcoming games. It's possible that it was an equipment error.
Help teach your kids to analyze their problems and look for potential solutions, instead of just dwelling on them. Owning up to your mistakes is the first step to growth, and it can give you a better outlook for the future. These moments can also show your kids that you are their supporter and that it's safe to come to you with problems.
Look at the Big Picture
If your kid is acting out, it's important to remember that kids don't always express their emotions in a logical way. Think of a toddler with a broken cracker. They might act like their puppy died because you can't put the cracker back together for them. But what is the real cause of the outburst? It's likely that the cracker has nothing to do with the problem.
Ask yourself - Are they hungry? Did their schedule change? Are they fighting with their friend? Did they get enough sleep? Was someone mean to them at school? Did their football practice go badly? Are they struggling in a class?
Figure out the big picture before engaging. This is a fantastic time to implement active listening. Remember to try not to pry. Instead, ask open-ended questions about their day and acknowledge their feelings throughout the conversation. The more you converse, the easier it is for the problem to come to light naturally.
Let Them Explore Different Interests
Sometimes, parents push their passions on their kids. Just because you like to garden doesn't mean that they'll enjoy the same pastime. If you want to be a better parent, try to give your kids opportunities to explore the world and find their own interests. Go to the farmer's market to meet people with unique jobs, ask companies if they will allow your child to shadow one of their employees for a week, sign up for free and affordable classes at the community center, and go on day trips to let them see other parts of the state.
If they spark an interest in something, then engage in the activity together! This can be a great bonding experience, and even if you don't want to become a mechanic, taking classes or talking to your child about different cars can help you learn about them and give them the opportunity to learn about themselves.
Always Advocate for Your Child
Lastly, you are your child's supporter, provider, and protector. If a situation is making them uncomfortable or they're being treated unfairly, speak up. Parents will never win popularity contests, so try not to worry about other people's perception of you. Be firm and fight for your child when they need someone to have their back. Moreover, don't discount your intuitions about your baby, no matter how old they may be. If you think something is wrong, your hunch is probably right, and it's best to find ways to fix the problem.
How to Become a Better Parent: Small Changes Make Big Ripples
When it comes to figuring out how to be a better parent, the answer is in the mirror. Look back at your childhood. What sticks out? What made an impact on you and what could you have done without? Next, think about the actions of others. What small gestures have a positive impact on your day? Finally, what do you need in life to be happy, challenged, fulfilled? These answers can drive your parenting in the right direction.